Placing the contemporary in the long view of history
I published Luddites, Guilds, and Societies of Correspondence on Medium where I was criticized for including “Andersen Design” in the name of the conceptual museum that was mentioned in the story. Naming a museum after Andersen Design was alleged to be egotistic and in evidence was that I was not talking about other artisans, the infamous “whataboutism” response wherein one makes a post about something and the response is “why are you talking about this instead of that?”
If using Andersen Design in the name of a museum makes the museum solely about Andersen Design then naming the story Luddites, Guilds, and Societies of Correspondence should make it only about Luddites, Guilds, and Societies of Correspondence so why was my critic treating the story as if it is about the museum unless he is recognizing, in a roundabout way that the museum is about Luddites, Guilds, Societies of Correspondence and Andersen Design?
My Dad was a Luddite and didn’t know it. It wasn’t a word in his vocabulary but when I learn about the true history of the Luddites, I realize that it is part of the tradition in which Andersen Design is properly understood. There are many diverse but related movements that need to be woven together to tell the story of an alternate history that has always existed alongside the dominant tale. As we move from the Industrial Revolution to the Age of Automation, the reasons for making certain cultural choices during the Industrial Revolution may no longer apply but are rather just that to which we have become accustomed. It is valuable to go back in time to understand the alternate history of the era dominated by the political and financial powers of the Industrial Revolution.
As a farm boy in Iowa, my dad read about a new field called Industrial design in Scientific American Magazine. That story inspired Dad to apply to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Industrial Design is concerned with all the issues that arose out of the Industrial revolution. Industrial design is concerned with economic development and the quality of life at home and work, including how and why things are produced. Like the Luddites, Dad was asking philosophical questions about applied technology and its relationship to humans. He reinvented production as a medium for an art form. If the medium is the message, the medium is ceramic hand-crafted slip-cast production and the message is the work process involved in creating an individualistic handmade product affordable to the middle classes, a message, it seems that makes many uncomfortable and they want to change it up.
Although not explicitly stated in so many words, the post titled Luddites, Guilds, and Societies of Correspondence is about the museum. All of the subjects in the title are separate but connected historical movements led by crafts makers.
According to the critic, the name of the museum makes it about Andersen Design which is supposed to be a bad thing, putting other artisans in our shadow or something of the sort. He criticized me for not talking about other artisans but it is not appropriate to be talking about artists that the museum might feature when the museum does not yet exist, giving the impression of a charlatan. There has to first be a museum, in actuality.
I suppose he was objecting to the fact that I featured images of our work. I should have featured other artisans’ work as well.
Really??? This is a free newsletter with an optional paid subscription. I make my income from Andersen Design, so……Maybe it’s fair to show our work in this newsletter. I made a conscious choice to self-publish this story on Medium because it featured multiple images linked to my e-commerce site. I haven’t marketed it this way previously but I am aware that someone who wants to support this newsletter can do so by paying for a subscription that is the same as one gets for free, or they can purchase a vintage collectible, now that we no longer have a production.
When I was trying to figure out Patreon I saw a banner that says “Offer merch the easy way: leave the fulfillment to us.!” It is called the “Merch for Membership program” Through Patreon, Andersen Design can offer “physical rewards” such as the ubiquitous mug with a decal printed on it, produced in global low-cost labor markets. Andersen Design’s products are handcrafted, made from raw materials using original glaze and body recipes designed by Andersen Design- and made in America. When we were in business we often produced rewards for non-profit fundraisers, which would make an ideal project for an independent studio working with Andersen Design as a sub-contractor- but that takes funding and other expertise to set up, The same small birds that are ideal for such projects are now commonly being sold at three or four times than our retail price when we had a production because the demand for our products still exists. Our collectors are our greatest supporters.
If I don’t get things going again, what becomes of our huge inventory of original molds of classic slip-cast designs? They are an economic development asset, for others as well as ourselves. They are classic designs, whose market appeal has been sustained for decades but because Andersen Design is not a large corporate producer selling to a mass market and therefore we have never flooded the market.
Someday If I get things going again both the Andersen Design Museum and the Andersen Design website can be venues for featuring other designer craftsmen, but that too takes funding and time. One has to expend one’s resources on the current steps that get one from here to there.
The Parameters of a Dialogue
The critic claimed to have read the page on the museum, which is the questions that the VLA lawyer asked and the answers I gave, to which the VLA lawyer opined that I have a viable project and even an interesting one.
To bring up potential artisans is superfluous to the purpose of the legal discussion and no one wants to waste the legal council’s time, so the criticism was just silly, but that is what people do and then it throws one off what would otherwise have been one’s focus, leaving me feeling compelled to write about this while I simultaneously wonder why I am doing so rather than writing the story that I would otherwise be writing.
Until the 501(3)(C) application is filed, all matters are provisional. Board members can weigh in on the name, along with everything else, but there are no board members, yet. Will they manifest in 2022? I have not checked my horoscope yet!
Ironically the critic has shifted my focus to writing about Andersen Design and why I support the museum being called the Andersen Design Museum of American Designer Craftsmen, and how and why the name and purpose of the museum came about and evolved. Perhaps that is what I am meant to do today at the start of this new year.
The issue of correctly formed relationships
In my point of view, the reason for not using Andersen Design in the name goes to the question of conflict of interest between Andersen Design, the private entity, applying to Andersen Design, the non-profit museum, as a fiscally sponsored project of the museum. That is an issue for legal counsel, but I am casually aware that non-profits have for-profit subsidiaries and those subsidiaries are sovereign corporations whose accounting is wrapped into the non-profits accounting in a way that I do not understand. In terms of accounting the sovereign for-profit subsidiary seems to vanish into the nonprofit and it is perfectly legal. If that can be, it seems that a private company should be able to apply as a fiscally sponsored project even if the fiscal sponsor shares its name.
So it is true from my personal point of view that the museum is about creating a system that allows our business to apply for non-profit debt-free funding to establish a design research and production and training location for our business, but individuals involved in a corporation, are not the same legal entity as the corporation itself and so my point of focus as a private entity is separate from my interests in the museum. When one grows up in a business in a home, one gets used to wearing different hats for different purposes.
Sometimes I call the conceptual museum, the Museum of American Designer Craftsmen, and other times I call it the Andersen Design Museum of Designer Craftsmen. It is still a fluid concept at this point. I am hoping I will soon find board members to bring the museum to completion, as it needs to be a team effort.
I have been studying the tax forms of existing non-profits and see that board members are not paid, but the directors and executives are paid very well, and I am assuming these positions would be decided by the board, and that the leadership of the museum would make the decisions about what shows and artist-designers are featured.
No one will be paid until the museum is funded. Andersen Design, after being in business since 1952, is recognized in our field and for being a category of our own – the other side of being excluded from many other categories. I believe the name is an asset that will attract funding in the right context- that of non-profit funding for crafts, museums, and education, and the more innovative side of economic development that thinks outside of the box of central management’s narrowly “targeted sector”.
Legal counsel has advised us that if we do not want a conflict of interest between Andersen Design, the designers and makers, a free enterprise entity, applying for fiscal sponsorship to the museum, a non-profit entity, that we should not be in a leadership position.
What’s in a Name?
If we should favor ourselves over others, it would be a conflict of interest, but that does not mean that our history should not be part of the museum narrative. Our history stands for ideas that are little understood but central to the purpose of the museum. The involvement of practitioners rather than only academics will make this museum distinct.
It is both significant and distinctive to name a museum after a company that is not made of billionaires- not even close. As it is, it feels like the dominant powers of the world want to erase our history and eliminate our future. I have no idea why since we are just a small company not doing something immediately identifiable as radical, and yet throughout our history, we have been excluded in all sorts of events because we did not properly fit the category rules.
Once we were invited to do a museum showing of our work based on what is presented online, but when it was realized by the museum that our work is slip cast, we were not allowed to show the same pieces that had caused the museum to invite us in the first place.
On another occasion, we were not allowed to show pieces with our brown tree pattern, a technique that my father invented in the 1950s but in recent years a commercial version of our brown slip came on the market and another vendor in the show was producing what looked very much like a copy of our classic pattern. Therefore we could not show our work as the managers of the show granted no significance to the fact that we were the original creators of both the brown slip and the pattern.
Wikipedia will not allow our company to be mentioned on the page on midcentury designers unless written about in an academic journal, although the Midcentury page mentions many of my parents’ contemporaries with whom they interacted in conducting their business. I provided Wikipedia with the write up in The Collectors Eye, which features Weston and Brenda Andersen in text and images more than any of the other designers of the period,
“If you’d like to know the next big thing in collecting twentieth-century design, you might want to ask Sara Blumberg and James Oliveira……..
Italian glass is one of the fields that now consumes them, particularly the stunning shapes that have been produced for hundreds of years on the fabled isle of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon. They’ve also been buying American studio pottery from the 1950s and the 1960s, especially the simple bowls and vases made by Weston and Brenda Andersen in East Boothbay, Maine. Not to mention twentieth-century Scandinavian pottery.
What do these disparate fields have in common? Looking at the pottery shapes on display, you can see that the crosscurrents of design have flowed from Europe to America and back. But Sara has a more elemental reason: “It all comes down to form”. In relating why they love one group of Andersen pieces, she calls them “organic” and the same would be said about their favorite objects-not to mention the way they have decorated their home.
“Responsible for changes good and bad in architecture and design, the Industrial Revolution changed the manufacturing process of pottery for good. New factories spat out thousands of pieces of pottery per day – their goal to stock kitchens and dining rooms of middle-class Europe and America quickly and inexpensively.
The Scandinavians were the first to rebel. They began to address the need for “good design for everyday use” around 1916. For Swedish artist and alchemist Wilhem Kage, that meant inventing hundreds of new glazes.
The Americans were quick to follow suit, benefiting from the influx of European designers during the 1930s and 1940s. The Scheiers were a husband-wife team famous for creating slightly off-center pieces. Also thumbing their noses at machine-made perfection were Weston and Brenda Andersen of East Boothbay Maine ( many of their pieces are seen in this spread)”
Wikipedia did not respond, preferring to erase Andersen Design from a history that includes my parent’s colleagues, and other potteries contemporary with the founding of Andersen Design. Very few potteries had a wild lifeline line in addition to a functional line, and none as extensive as our own.
Mid-century modern (MCM)is an American design movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development that was popular from roughly 1945 to 1969, during the United States‘s post–World War II period.
Scandinavian design was very influential at this time, with a style characterized by simplicity, democratic design and natural shapes. Glassware (Iittala – Finland), ceramics (Arabia – Finland), tableware (Georg Jensen – Denmark), lighting (Poul Henningsen – Denmark), and furniture (Danish modern) were some of the genres for the products created. In America, east of the Mississippi, the American-born Russel Wright, designing for Steubenville Pottery, and Hungarian-born Eva Zeisel designing for Red Wing Pottery and later Hall China created free-flowing ceramic designs that were much admired and heralded in the trend of smooth, flowing contours in dinnerware. On the West Coast of America the industrial designer and potter Edith Heath (1911–2005) founded Heath Ceramics in 1948. The company was one of the numerous California pottery manufacturers that had their heyday in post-war US, and produced Mid-Century modern ceramic dish-ware. Edith Heath’s “Coupe” line remains in demand and has been in constant production since 1948, with only periodic changes to the texture and color of the glazes.
The purpose of the Museum will be to narrate a largely untold history. The fact that Wikipedia refuses to include Andersen Design in the history of its own times is the institutionalized certification that Andersen Design is part of untold history.
In the 1980s when the Brooklyn Museum featured a retrospective of Eva Zeisel’s work, it was Dad whom she asked to introduce her. There is no one to tell the story of Andersen Design’s history except for yours truly (me).
I feel that the Andersen Design name needs to be un-erased and that is a reason why I would like Andersen Design in the name of the Museum, but it is also because of the philosophy by which Andersen Design was conceived, which is as unique and misunderstood as that of the Luddites and other movements that make up the alternate history that followed a different path at the juncture in the road where craft-making met the Industrial Revolution.
I once read a paper about Marx that said by “proletariate”, Marx meant outsiders. The writer put forth the interpretation that in order to be accepted in the system, the outsider has to change it. I identified. The museum can be used to further that purpose. The story of the Society of Correspondence, which I told in my last post, is a living example of the proletariat as outsiders asking “Have we, who are Tradesmen, Shopkeepers, and Mechanics, any right to obtain a Parliamentary Reform?” -turning it over “in every point of view in which we were capable of presenting the subject to our minds“. They decided that they had. The Making of the English Working Class E. P. Thompson 1963
The creation of the museum’s purpose statement and the design of its fiscal sponsorship function is of the same order as Parliamentary reform, except it is wealth redistribution reform. Today the concentration and redistribution of wealth is governed not only by acts of legislation but by financial instruments invented in the private sector.
Aside from potential conflicts of interest, I see no issue in today’s world with a museum having the name of the brand identity of a private business, and I think it is particularly significant that it is a private business that is not a billionaire corporation. There is too much focus these days on the billionaire- no, the trillionaire mentality. Many museums are named after private benefactors of immense wealth. Andersen Design does not have immense wealth but we have recognition in our field, which I believe is an asset in fundraising. Our assets are entirely the result of engagement in a designer-maker work process since 1952. If a museum can be named after big-money donors, why can’t a museum be named after significant practitioners who made a unique contribution in the field represented by the museum?
A second function of the museum as a fiscal sponsor will be redirecting the distribution of wealth to small and grassroots entrepreneurs, a class that has heretofore been denied access to non-profit funding while being taxed to subsidize large corporations that accumulate large concentrations of wealth that becomes the foundations that distribute non-profit funding exclusively to a non-taxpaying sector. The systemic benefit is a financial instrument that increases equality in wealth distribution and promotes entrepreneurial opportunity at the roots of the economy.
The museum as a fiscal sponsor is similar to Fractured Atlas. The association of Andersen Design’s name with a museum came about through a process that began when Fractured Atlas would not approve of Andersen Design’s purpose as designers and makers because I used the word “production”, a word that the board declared to mean one is only in it for the money. Since Fractured Atlas excluded Andersen Design because of its choice of medium, there needs to be another fiscal sponsor that serves those excluded by Fractured Atlas.
This newspeak definition of production, crafted at a remote distance, fails to understand that at the wellness center of the working classes, the working classes like to work. The Andersen Design production is a production whose -owners were workers- who employed other workers. The process of producing something has value in and of itself.
Fractured Atlas is in the wealth redistribution industry and does not have experiential knowledge of production. Despite all the financial instruments that have been invented, wealth is still created when something is produced. To produce something well, one has to engage meaningfully with the production process, for its own sake, not just for the money. The assertion that “production means one is only in it for the money” is a product of conceit of those who keep their hands clean and their white gloves on while dealing primarily with wealth and its distribution keeping the real world where wealth is produced at a distance.
It was the fact that Andersen Design had been teaching how to make ceramics on the job since 1952, that caused our personal contact at Fractured Atlas to express confidence that we would qualify as a social enterprise but in the end, the remote and opaque board of Fractured Atlas forbid Andersen Design from teaching how to make its line should we have chosen to be a school and forbid us from qualifying as designers and makers, and would only approve us if we changed our originating purpose “To create a hand made product affordable to the middle classes”.
I felt manipulated but I tried to make the best of it. The idea of the Museum is not without its interests but we are designers and makers. I did not like the powerful non-profit organization thinking it could change my life’s purpose but at the same time, I believe that everything that happens is God’s will and I need to reach an understanding with God, not the board of Fractured Atlas.
God is a metaphysical philosophical concept.
So, in the spur of the moment, in about a half hour’s time, I proposed the Andersen Design Museum- and it was approved. It was only after the fact of approving the Andersen Design Museum, that the museum became the Andersen Design Museum of American Designer Craftsmen. It seemed oxymoronic that we would be approved to create a museum honoring our past while forbidden to continue doing what we do in the future. A part of me hated it, with a passion.
I did not like being picked up from the world of designing and making and running a free enterprise business and dropped into the world of academia, but this is God’s plan for me, at least at the moment. I believe that it is also God’s plan that I put Andersen Design on its right future course.
It seemed to me that fiscal sponsorship does not require that a sponsored project have the intention of becoming a 501(3)(C) organization but much of the literature, primarily written by non-profits, tries to put across that idea. The given reason for rejecting Andersen Design’s primary purpose for fiscal sponsorship is of the sort (asserting one’s motivations) that one expects in a Facebook conversation, not from a professional board. It comes across as a cover for something else- I know not what.
The Fractured Atlas decision took twice as long as estimated in their literature and so it must have been controversial with some who disagreed with the final outcome. Perhaps the offer to approve us for a different purpose than what we love to do, was the deal clincher. I had no experience in running a Museum and in non-profit fundraising which would have been easier if I were fundraising for 65 years of practicing experience. If I had been more clear-minded- not so upset by the slander and manipulations, I might have understood then as I do now that the Museum should become a 501(3)(C) fiscal sponsor that will sponsor designer-craftsmen like Andersen Design, but there was no one to guide me through despite the economic development resources and non-profit organizations everywhere. The JECD was spending my taxpayer dollars on functions appropriate to the Boothbay Harbor Chamber of Commerce but would not even acknowledge the proposal I presented to them. The council had backgrounds in the non-profit industry and could have offered useful advice but was unwilling to do so.
And so I was on my own. I let the Fractured Atlas project fall by the wayside. The museum easily qualified for craft foundation’s application process. I could see from reading the information that to apply we needed to have a board in place. So as long as I needed a board, being a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas was not going to help me. Now I have skipped that step. I need a board to apply as a 501(3)(C). I’ve got a lawyer and that’s a start but I can’t find a board and it’s breaking my heart!